The awkwardly-named Void Bastards is a cocktail mix of genres. Add a first-person shooter and stir in some roguelike elements, slip in a crafting mechanic, and top it off with an eye-catching name that looks like it was conjured up last-minute by a bunch of drunken Aussies. Here’s a shocker: some of the developers at Blue Manchu are made up of former members of Irrational Games, also known as the clever clogs who worked on the System Shock and Bioshock. This one may not be as multi-layered as its predecessors, but it’s still worth rummaging through.
In the future, very important jobs can be solved by sending off conscripts – or convicts, to be specific – into deep space. Just add water to a prisoner stored in a sachet of powder, and, hey presto! You’ve got a volunteer ready to raid cleared-out ships in order to fix your own. It’s no plot-centric game, but there are some quirky comic book cutscenes that’ll fill you in on what you’ll need to do next. It’s hard not to compliment its cel-shaded visuals (anyone remember XIII?) and its colourful blend of 3D environments with 2D weapons ‘n’ foes. It runs smooth as kittens, and is complemented by a soundtrack made up of eerie and frantic songs.
You’ll be travelling from ship to ship, looking for supplies to keep you alive and help you progress. Food heals you in between trips, fuel allows you to travel, and junk can be recycled into raw parts for crafting. The in-game currency are known as merits, which can unlock containers holding important thingymabobs, make machines on vessels do handy things (i.e. see all enemies on the map), or just be spent on supermarket venders floating in the void. It’s nothing particularly unique, but scavenging out of desperacy before your health or oxygen meter hits zero can be quite exciting at times.
Levels are randomly generated, though it won’t take long until you start noticing some familiar areas. They’re well-designed, and will always have lots of goodies to nab, and nothing is more satisfying than pushing the odds in order to collect as many things as possible. Chances are you’ll come across vessels with more than a few nasty hazards, like oil slicks or lots of smoke, which adds slight bit of variation. Even travelling on the map can be dangerous, as you may find a route that’ll send you through a wormhole or closer towards a vehicle-gobbling void whale. A handful of creatively-designed enemies, like ‘warped citizens’ and robot turrets, will give you further grief with their varied attack patterns. It does make for some tense encounters at times (especially with the bullet-sponge Screws, and the spammy space pirates), thus encouraging a stealthy approach.
While sneaking around is a viable choice, using weapons is obviously the cooler option. Starting off with a handgun and a morsel of bullets, you can create a slew of handy gadgets and weapons a silent dart gun, a device jammer, and even a ‘kittybot’ to distract foes and detonates, can be created with the right parts. If you die, fret not, as your armory and loot remains untouched, but you must start your journey again as a new prisoner with a new perks and abilities. Some may be able to loot more items, while others may run slower or drop clips when reloading. Again, it’s more variety that combats the monotony to a moderate extent.
That’s essentially the gameplay in a nutshell. Enter a ship, loot what you can, escape in one piece, recycle the junk for upgrade parts, and endure the occasionally sorta-kinda funny joke here and there. Death is but a setback in this one. Escaping the nebula is no easy feat, no doubt about it, yet you can always make it even more of a challenge by starting a new game with handicaps activated, perfect for challenge-hunters who love replaying games for scraping achievements. An extra bit of salt to sprinkle on top is an optional and welcome addition.
Void Bastards is a ‘rinse and repeat’ sort of game. As a result, its asking price may scare off anyone looking for deep game mechanics or plot. The game does add some spice to mix things up with the randomization of levels, events, protagonists and the like, so the perpetual grind of travelling, looting and crafting doesn’t really get all that tiresome, even if that’s all you need to do to progress the story. With its great visuals, solid combat and genuinely exciting encounters, what’s admirable is the fact that, while repetitive, it all just works pretty damn well.
Review code supplied by Blue Manchu.